Chronicles in Ordinary Time 23: Sustainability

I just finished watching Ken Burns’ “The Dust Bowl;” chronicling the 30 or so years that it took to turn a self-sustaining savannah of Buffalo Grass into what almost became the Sahara Desert revisited. Land that should never have been cultivated, because it can’t sustain agriculture. Rain is infrequent, but Buffalo Grass had roots that grew 5ft into the ground. The ‘Dust Bowl’ happened because wheat ranchers over-cultivated land that should have been left for grazing. I didn’t keep track of the numbers; but the narration speaks of millions of tons of topsoil that was blown away. At one point in the mid-30’s, Oklahoma dust fell on a tanker 300 miles at sea.

The area where the Dust Bowl once existed is now used for “corn” production, which requires even more water than wheat. The water for this production is pumped out of the Ogallala Aquifer. Not only does the aquifer provide water for irrigation, but it also provides drinking water for much of the central plains.  Some estimates say the aquifer will dry up in as few as 25 years. The Dust Bowl will very likely return. Drinking water used for hog feed.

Why are we so stupid?

The farmers came because they wanted to own land, and to make a life for themselves and their descendants. A valid desire. The Ken Burns story references the writings of Carolyn Henderson; a woman who came to Oklahoma looking to build a life for herself and her husband, and their family. I have relatives who are Hendersons, probably not related; my father expected to be a wheat rancher, here in Oregon. The Ken Burns story pushed ‘buttons’ that I prefer keeping un-pushed.

In America we have the freedom to ruin the land that sustains us. We do things because we can; not because we should. This too, is the American Way.

There are those who had the ability to create a ‘dust bowl’ of our economy. Not just the American economy; but much of the Western world’s economy.  The homeless [both on the street, and those who now live with family and friends, having lost their homes] are the ‘Okies’ of today. Victims of our own foolishness and/or lack of foresight. We over-cultivated our economy, in the same manner as did those who created the Dust Bowl. The parallels are frightening.

I am heartened by individuals in my children’s generation; people who want to repair the land, and live in a more sustainable manner. It requires a divorce from consumerism; which drives our economy. So, we not only need to live a more sustainable lifestyle when it comes to agriculture and energy production; but we also need to wean our economy off of consumerism, and into sustainability.

A large portion of the population of our world live in tin shacks or mud huts. They have internet access in this world of dire poverty; the contrast is also staggering.

Black Friday is coming, this week; and retailers are excited. During the time of the Dust Bowl, there occurred a Black Sunday. Walls of dust, thousands of feet tall, blocked out the light of the sun for hours on end, for much of the Plains states. I wonder if our upcoming Black Friday is also leading to a Black Sunday in the future.

Cover art for Scholastic’s “Oregon At Last”

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One Response to “Chronicles in Ordinary Time 23: Sustainability”

  1. sina Says:


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